You have to ask, as we witness violent protests and riots against Trump’s election to the presidency, what protestors want. Possibilities are several, but not endless:
- Show force now and for the future: we represent a movement to reckon with. That’s the Nazi SA model.
- Vent anger, fear, extreme displeasure and dislike in solidarity with others who have the same emotions.
- Make Trump behave himself: we can influence his decisions before he makes them.
- Overturn election results.
- Mob behavior is fun: you get to rip up a city with your buddies and probably not be arrested for it.
You can probably think of a couple of others. Of course, any group of protesters has a mix of several motives, and even an individual protester likely has multiple motives. Interesting though is that recent protests had to be unplanned, as so few of the people on the streets expected Trump to win. They are out there on chilly nights because the results shocked them. They also know, from social media, that they won’t be alone, or marching with only a few fellows. They can kick in storefront windows and get away with it, due to the anonymity of numbers.
I have argued and argued that violence applied to political purposes is ineffective. It never works. The left may think violent protests, such as Chicago 1968, worked to get us out of Vietnam, but they are wrong. Losing to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong got us out of Vietnam. Far from being successful, violent methods completely discredited the left in the 1960s and 70s, so much so that its aims and methods remain suspect half a century later. You could even say suspicion of the left runs so high now, fifty years later, that it resulted in Trump’s election.
Yet the left rolls out the same tactics against Trump that it used against Johnson and Nixon, despite the tactics’ manifest failure over five decades. They do not see the difference between Martin Luther King’s success in his campaign for civil rights, and the SDS’s failure to achieve any of its stated aims. Compare King’s letter from the Birmingham jail with Tom Hayden’s Port Huron statement. Consider which one presents a vision that came to pass. Next compare King’s methods of change with Hayden’s methods of change, and ask whether their contrasting methods have anything to do with their movements’ records of success.
People say they’re afraid of Trump, but people who are afraid don’t throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police. They’re just mad, and they dare people to stop them.
Hints of violence accompanied Trump during his campaign, especially in the months before his nomination. His supporters and opponents picked fights with each other outside rally venues, sometimes inside them. Each side blamed the other for scuffles and overall animosity. Trump sometimes seemed to encourage the confrontations and skirmishes, sometimes seemed to discourage them. Altogether, his rallies and other campaign appearances had more overtones of rough behavior and antagonistic language than many people felt comfortable with.
Now Trump’s opponents have indicated their readiness to escalate violent tactics after the election. Mainstreamers focused on what might happen if Trump lost and claimed a rigged election. They did not anticipate what might happen if he won, and Democrats refused to accept the outcome. If you want to see anger born of surprise, and riots born of anger, check out the streets of Portland, Oregon, and other cities across the country. People say they’re afraid of Trump, but people who are afraid don’t throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police. They’re just mad, and they dare people to stop them.
You could say, without showing support for Nazi ideology, “Look what the SA accomplished with its street tactics. They helped bring Hitler to power. Politically speaking, isn’t that success?” Maybe that looked like success in 1933, but twelve years later, Hitler lay dead in an underground bunker by his own hand, the capital of his thousand year reich a pile of rubble. That does not look like such a successful project to me.
The most famous face-off between coercion, and provocative but peaceful resistance is that between the Roman Empire and Christianity. That one took centuries to resolve itself. Current modes of speculation ask, “How long before the American republic self-destructs?” We are fifty-three years in, counting from November 22, 1963. After a brief period of unity following 9/11, we have civil conflict and division now that prompts people to remember sectional conflict before the Civil War. In the story unfolding, we don’t know yet how significant Trump’s election will prove to be.